Historically known as Bone Pond, Crystal Lake was, at least from the late 1930s until its closure, a wildly popular rural recreation spot. It was originally known as Bone Pond, for Willis Bone, who ran a grist mill at the site. Bone has traditionally been vilified in local circles as a Union sympathizer because in 1861 he harbored Tony Young, a runaway slave from nearby Rebecca, on his property. When Judge Walker of Irwin County went to the mill to question Bone about the enslaved man, he found them working some fields on the property. An argument between Bone and the judge ensued and Bone struck and killed the judge with a rock. Bone then buried the judge in a shallow grave near the lake. When Walker didn’t return home, a posse went to find him. They didn’t find Tony Young, but they did recover the body of Judge Walker. Bone denied any involvement, but the posse lynched him almost immediately in a tree beside the mill pond. His family was allowed to leave the county. Years later, Bone’s son stated that after Bone killed Judge Walker, he killed Tony Young and threw his body into the deepest section of the lake.
Mr. Bone’s great-great-great grandson, Richard Thornton, sheds new light on the story: “His son was a soldier in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The Bones were Creek Indians. Most Creeks did not believe in slavery and traditionally helped runaway slaves”. Thornton also dispelled the long-held local legend that Bone was a Yankee, noting his birthplace was Elbert County, Georgia.
It was originally a pond of normal size but a sinkhole reportedly swallowed the mill and filled the surrounding area with water. In the recreational era, the water level was fed by numerous underground springs connected to the nearby Alapaha River, and has risen and fallen at different times throughout its existence. It’s completely dried up today and is no longer open to the public. I’m not sure who owned it after Willis Bone, but Dr. W. L. Story of Ashburn purchased it in the early 1920s. He was the first owner to see the recreational potential of the property. It is believed that much of the mythology surrounding the lake developed at this time. Many locals believed it to be haunted, and that the “Devil” had risen from the “bottomless pit”.
Mandy Bryant notes that her “grandfather, Leon Lewis, and Jehu Fletcher owned Crystal Lake for awhile in the 40′s and 50′s. My grandfather died in 1953 and at that time my mother (Athleen Lewis Harp) and her sister (Maudine Lewis Holden) bought Jehu Fletcher’s half. Then the three sisters sold the property.” The late A. N. Adcock, Jr., of Tifton. who was one of the greatest promoters of tourism in the region, was the owner who expanded and popularized the park. It is now used as a hunting club. The Adcock family has done a great job in regard to its general preservation, as the surrounding hammocks and scrublands are ecologically important habitats. I was fortunate enough to go riding in the woods at Crystal Lake with Mr. Adcock, along with my father and the late Milton Hopkins, in search of a rare bird whose identity I can no longer recall. It was probably around 1989 and even then, at the height of the park’s popularity, Mr. Adcock was deeply interested in preserving the natural history of this special place. Unfortunatley, as of 2015, much of the property has been clearcut.
This property is private and secure; if you go there seeking access you will be asked to leave or removed.
It was a big deal when the park closed, and apparently, it’s been sixteen years. There were times in the past when the lake was known to have dried up but it always naturally regenerated. I expect agricultural strains on the aquifer have rendered that impossible today.
At some point, as the park grew in popularity, the name was changed to Crystal Beach. I can remember a time when there was one of these bumper stickers on nearly every teenager’s vehicle in Ben Hill & Irwin Counties.
A large modern drive-through entrance gate was added in the 1990s. I remember the ticket booth pictured below.
This is the pavilion as it looked in the days when I was visiting Crystal Lake, from the 1970s to 1990s.
And here’s a postcard view of a smaller pavilion in the early 1960s.
As the postcard view indicates, there was nothing much on the beach in the 1960s, but by the 1970s and 1980s, growing crowds wanted more diverse things to do when spending the day.
I’m sure many people have memories of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers here.
Just past the picnic area and behind the pavilion was the real star attraction, the park’s first large waterslide. Derek Veal, who worked at the park as a teenager, reminded me that it was known as the “Slippery Dip”.
Other waterslides were added as the park expanded.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see it one more time, but it is NOT publicly accessible nor do I have ability to get anyone access. Trespassing on the property is illegal and is watched closely.
Aerial Views of Crystal Lake, 2008
My friend Browne Harper made these shots of the lake in 2008. I’m grateful to him for sharing them with Vanishing Georgia.
This view shows water in the sinkhole; I didn’t see any when I visited.
Here’s a view of the pavilion and main beach, with the Slippery Dip waterslide in the right background.
This was a newer waterslide which I wasn’t familiar with.
The preceding three photographs are courtesy of Browne Harper. Please do not share them without proper credit to him.